Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What actually happened in Harrow?

The other day Labor minister John Denham issued a tirade against neo-fascist organizations in the UK, likening them to Oswald Mosley's blackshirts in the 1930s. I think this is prompted by the BBC's decision to give Nick Griffin a seat on Question Time, the BBC's flagship political discussion program. Here is a quote from the Guardian:

Announcing a government drive to address issues alienating white, working-class people at risk of being "exploited" by the far-right, John Denham, the secretary of state for communities and local government, singled out protests being organised by the English Defence League.

The group, has organised a number of protests in recent months which have turned violent. It is to hold events in Manchester, Leeds, London and Bristol in the coming weeks. Yesterday small groups of EDL supporters gathered for a protest outside a mosque in Harrow, north-west London. They were confronted by at least 1,000 anti-fascist protesters. Police arrested 10 people after clashes, nine of them for allegedly possessing weapons. No injuries were reported.

"I think the English Defence League and other organisations are not actually large numbers of people," Denham said. "They clearly though have among them people who know exactly what they're doing. If you look at the types of demonstrations they've organised … it looks pretty clear that it's a tactic designed to provoke and get a response, and hopefully create violence."

He pointed to historical "parallels" with Mosley's events. "You could go back to the 1930s if you wanted to – Cable Street and all of those types of things. The tactic of trying to provoke a response in the hope of causing wider violence and mayhem is long established on the far-right and among extremist groups."

The so-called Battle of Cable Street occurred in October 1936, when Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, attempted to lead his supporters through a Jewish area of the East End of London, leading to violent clashes.

In fact the supposed 'right-wing demonstration' had not been organized by the English Defence League, but by a different organization 'Stop Islamification of Europe'. And the demonstration reported by the Guardian, Reuters and much of the main stream media appears not to have taken place at all, though I can't be sure that a few skinheads and other thugs out for trouble didn't turn up. Here is the BBC report of the incident:

Stop Islamification of Europe (SIOE) said they planned a "peaceful protest" against the building of a five-storey mosque next to the Harrow Central Mosque.

But in a message on their website SIOE said the protest had been called off and organiser Stephen Gash had been arrested.

The posting read: "If you are on your way to the demo, don't go, it's being called off right now.

The police can't handle the Muslim counter-demonstrators. The senior sergeant said that he doesn't want any of his policemen killed."

Nine people remain in custody after being arrested for possession of offensive weapons including a hammer, a chisel and bottles of bleach.

Another person was arrested at the scene to prevent a breach of the peace, but he was released soon after, police said.

Police also stopped a number of people, who they believed were heading for the anti-Islamist protest, from getting to the protest area.

"If the SIOE demonstration started it would have resulted in serious disorder," a statement from police said.

If you want to know what really happened it is often useful to go to the local newspaper who probably sent a reporter to the incident - what appears in the nationals is often the result of Chinese whispers. This from the Harrow Times:

A DEMONSTRATION against fascism outside Harrow Central Mosque descend into violence and ugly scenes as groups of young Asian men ran amok through Wealdstone.

Despite earlier calls for calm and peace from community and mosque leaders, hundreds chased people through the streets around the mosque and got into scuffles with police.

On The Bridge, close to Harrow and Wealdstone station, the baying crowd of predominantly Asian young men pelted officers in riot gear with rocks, sticks, glass bottles and in some cases, fireworks.

After being forced down from the bridge, the men chased people through the streets and tried to storm Harrow Civic Centre.

With some peacemakers among the crowd, the protesters began turning on each other, leading to angry scuffles and confusion across the streets of Wealdstone.

The violence broke out as thousands, lead by Unite Against Fascism (UAF), turned out to opposed a planned demonstration outside the mosque by a group called Stop the Islamisation of Europe.

However, the right-wing group failed to materialised, and with tensions high among the anti-fascist protesters, it soon became clear violence was not far away.

A group of six white men were spotted heading from the station to the mosque at around 5pm, but before they could make their intentions clear, they were chased by dozens of the protesters, some armed with sticks, through the civic centre car park.

So who are the blackshirts now? The tactics adopted by these Muslim youths seem to be very similar to those of of Oswald Mosley, and while they may be no more representative of British Muslims than the original blackshirts were of the British working man in the 1930s, they certainly justify the tag, Islamofascists. Contrast their reaction to that of English Catholics four years ago when Muslims organized a protest outside Westminster Cathedral against something the Pope had said.

Much of this demonstration must have been very offensive to Catholics but there was no riot. I am afraid that this is the price that you have to pay for the privilege of free speech. People say things that offend you. That is why the BBC is right to allow the BNP to present their case. I believe the BNP to be a racist organization with simplistic solutions to complex problems. Under proper political scrutiny their defects will be come apparent. Likewise I believe that Islamofascists should be allowed to present their views to reasonable scrutiny. But if either group resorts to rioting or bullying or otherwise used violence, then the full weight of existing laws should be brought against them, without any fear or excessive sensitivity.

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